Sleeper Spy: A Novel

Sleeper Spy: A Novel

by William Safire

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307799791
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/12/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 528,453
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

William Safire, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, has been a newspaper reporter, a White House speechwriter, a lexicographer, an anthologist, and a bestselling novelist. In addition to his weekly column, "On Language," for The New York Times Magazine, his primary post is political columnist for The New York Times. Safire is the author of The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time: Wit and Wisdom from the Popular Language Column in the New York Times Magazine; No Uncertain Terms: More Writing from the Popular "On Language" Column in The New York Times Magazine; Take My Word For It; and many more.

Read an Excerpt

He was free.
Never before in his long career, first in the KGB and now in the Russian Federation’s Security Ministry, had the control agent felt himself beyond the reach of Moscow’s arm.
But now the document freeing him lay on the coffee table of a bungalow on the leeward side of the island. From the porch, looking west into the sunset, he could see the landing lights and faintly hear the approach of the evening flight from America. Berensky, the sleeper agent now acting under his direction, would be at the bungalow within an hour.
“Tragic crash near Odessa has taken the lives of the chief of the Fifth Directorate and his deputy,” read the decoded fax message. He had been ordered to return to Yasenovo, on the outskirts of Moscow, for urgent consultations. A new economic intelligence chief would have to be appointed and briefed.
Control had a good idea who the new man at the top of the Fifth was likely to be: one of the brilliant young academics, all good looks and meager experience, brought in by the reformers after Yeltsin put down the old guard’s attempt at a coup. Their youth did not bother Control; he was a veteran agent; Aleksandr Shelepin himself, the KGB chief who had led the “anti-Party plot” to oust Khrushchev in the old days, was not yet forty when he took over at KGB headquarters in Dzerzhinsky Square. What troubled Control was the ready recognizability of their faces.
Nikolai Davidov’s face, for example. Davidov was the most probable choice to take over as director of economic intelligence. He had the dark good looks and square jaw of an American television anchorman. What kind of face was that for a spymaster? Control thought the best face for espionage should exhibit a bland forgettability, much like Control’s own visage: professionally nondescript, a scowl not especially threatening, a countenance easily overlooked. A face to put people to sleep.
He ran the tip of his tongue along the thin lips of that face, savoring the delicious fact that not one of the new crowd in Moscow knew what Control knew: the identity of the sleeper agent who had been planted a generation ago in America. Someone in the bureaucracy surely had a general idea of Berensky’s work from Control’s guarded reports, and a few of the old-timers with long memories of Shelepin’s day might even know the sleeper’s Russian background. A banker in Bern and an economist in Helsinki who were in on the launch of the sleeper’s activation and assignment—to invest the assets of the KGB—might know, though they dealt through Control and only indirectly with the sleeper. But nobody now alive at headquarters in Yasenovo had had, up to now, any need to know the sleeper’s American identity. The current name and address of the sleeper was the best-kept secret in the KGB.
Now, with the old Fifth director and his deputy both dead in the crash, and with all files on Aleksandr Berensky long ago deliberately destroyed to prevent his discovery by CIA penetrators, only Control and one other Russian agent were aware of the sleeper’s name and whereabouts, his mode of operation, and the scope of his assignment. Control allowed himself to savor the miserly pleasure that comes to political insiders, secretive scientists, art thieves, enterprising journalists, and professional spies: the sense of early, exclusive possession of invaluable information.
He walked inside the bungalow to one of the two bedrooms, opened his suitcase, and felt gingerly for the two old record albums he had obtained as soon as he received the news of the crash and Moscow’s order that he return.
He asked himself: Who else knew who the sleeper was? In the field, one other Russian agent knew Berensky’s American name and legend. But that agent, who had penetrated the U.S. government and was supplying information to fuel the sleeper’s financial engine, was also Control’s responsibility. The two men, sleeper and mole, reported only to Control. He was certain neither had any other point of contact with the KGB. He wished now that he had never let the two get into contact with each other, but that had been unavoidable; the sleeper needed to have immediate access to financial data from the mole, and Control could not always be available as go-between.
For four years, Control had been given no other assignment than to run these two agents. The sharp focus of this assignment was unusual at a time of tightened budgets at the Kremlin, but was a measure of how vital to the Russian state the directorate deemed the success of the sleeper’s unprecedented operation.
The album covers were between his shirts. The Bruch Second Violin Concerto played by David Oistrakh and “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” by Frank Sinatra. He reached inside each album cover and extracted the two flat, round sheets of plastic explosive.
The material was not Semtex, manufactured in the Czech Republic and retailed by Libyan middlemen to terrorists; Control wanted no part of such a provenance. This was Composition D, made in the U.S. for military use, said to be more malleable and reliable.
From his wallet, he took out an instruction sheet on how to mold the plastic explosive, install the detonation device and its timer, and fix it in place. This was not properly Control’s line of work, but he was certain it should not be beyond the capability of a resourceful agent, even one long once-removed from direct operations. He reread the instructions and followed the first step to stretch and mold the two pieces of black plastic into the single two-foot length he desired.
Would Berensky want to join him in taking advantage of the deaths at the top of the Fifth Directorate? Would he agree to redirect the plan? Holding the plastic in both hands, Control paused to ponder. Even before Berensky was given a huge stake in gold and had begun to receive closely held financial information a few years ago, the sleeper had become a successful banker in America; he understood the mysteries of money; he moved vast sums of other people’s assets around in lightning trades.
On the other hand, Berensky—Control thought of him in his Russian, not his American identity—was the dedicated disciple of his father, a KGB chief who was such a stern ideologue that he had sent his son to live a lifelong lie behind enemy lines a generation ago. It troubled Control that the sleeper might be afflicted with notions of loyalty to the new regime now in power, or—even worse—with dreams of supplanting that regime with the old KGB faction once headed by his father.
If Berensky refused to take the money and go into private business with Control, there was always the banker in Bern to fall back on for his expertise. But Berensky would be better.
Control now wished he had taken the time to know the sleeper better. Belatedly, he judged himself deficient in tradecraft for not being able to determine the motivation of an agent given such trust. But Aleks Berensky had never been a confiding soul; in all their meetings over the five years after Aleks was activated, the tall, heavyset man had seldom smiled, had rarely grown openly angry. He remained unperturbed, as a gambler or a banker should, even in those rare cases when the economic intelligence Control provided him was mistaken and caused him serious losses.
Following the directions on the sheet, Control pressed the detonator shaft into the plastic explosive. Berensky was the name given to the bastard son of the KGB director Shelepin, but the sleeper was his father’s son. Berensky was a Shelepin to the bone. Purposeful above all.
What else would possess a young man to leave his pregnant wife behind forever, to train for years in the KGB’s American Village to pass for an American, and then to insinuate himself into an alien society, never revealing himself until called upon to betray the trust he had built up for a generation? Control had run spies that were in the business for the money—by far the most reliable motivation—or for the thrill, or were driven by some burning theology, or because they had been entrapped and turned. But all those spies had the comfort of continuity of contact; steadying their psyches was the reassurance of a regular series of transactions, made personal by the lifelong security of their own control agents.
Not the sleeper. For nearly twenty years, he had been all alone and unreached-for. He had never been called upon for any espionage and was not permitted to contact his motherland for advice or encouragement. His permanent home was in the enemy’s house. A sleeper was an intelligence agency’s longest-term investment, never to be risked for transitory gains. This particular sleeper was like a time bomb attached to a generational calendar rather than a clock.
Control reminded himself that the explosive detonator in his hand was to be attached to the small quartz-driven clock in the kit. He consulted the instruction sheet again, clicked the timer into the detonator, and checked the hour against his own watch: 7:00 P.M. He set the clock for 11:00 P.M. and pressed the assembled device into the lengthened plastic. It drooped in the middle when he held it in both hands, but he found the answer to that in the instruction sheet: mold the plastic to the object to be exploded.
He went through the bathroom to the bedroom that did not have his suitcase on the bed. The last time they met on this island, Berensky had expressed a desire for the room with the view of the nearby hotel casino rather than of the ocean, and was asleep by ten. He would have his favorite room again.
Control slid on his back under the bed and pressed the length of the Composition D around the rod stabilizing the innerspring mattress. He jiggled the detonator and clock to make sure they were wedged in securely. As a fail-safe, as the instruction sheet suggested, he rigged the switch so that he would have to come into the room and reach under the bed to activate the timer. He would do that during a break in their meeting, only if the sleeper failed to grasp the private financial opportunity that lay before the two of them. If Berensky would not be his partner, the sleeper would lie down on his well-wired mattress for his final sleep. And then Control would take a long walk on the beach, in a safe position to observe the fireworks.

What People are Saying About This

Larry King

A great read. Safire is as good with fiction as he is with nonfiction, which is Pulitzer-prize good.

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Sleeper Spy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
dspoon on LibraryThing 23 days ago
A master sleeper spy, assimilated into American life for twenty years, has been made operative and given control of the vast financial assets of the old KGB, and has disappeared with the fortune. His reputation is deadly, and his manipulation of enormous wealth begins to alter the world's political and financial structure. Although the old KGB hard-liners bent on reinstating the old guard's lethal techniques are determined to find the sleeper. And so is the world's greatest reporter, Irving Fein. Fein is a character only William Safire could ceat: driven, mean, funy, always the "skunk in the garden party." Relentlessly resourceful, Fein is always suspicios, always thinking and his access to the top in politics, the CIA, th media, is the best. But Irving isn't charming, nor is he good on television, and he needs a big story. Vieca Farr is Fein's journalistic opposite, a TV anchorwoman whho is popular on the air but lacks stature as a reporter. Working together, they decide to "walk back the cat" and break the story of the notorious sleeper spy, even as the sleeper is devising brilliant ways to elude them. Rich in information and disinformation steeped in the stories behind the news, and revealing of how the minds of spies and of journalists work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its ok
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
G. Go away im done with u. Sleeper. Sorry. I act out when i piss.ed i didnt mean tht